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12 Pros Share the Best Design Lessons They Learned from Mom

A bedroom with tufted headboards and an antique nightstand

Charlie Ferrer

They say Mom knows best, and it’s true: she helped you cure everything from a pesky cold to a broken heart, but her wisdom doesn’t stop there. For many designers, Mom knows it all when it comes to decorating, too.

In some cases, maybe it was Mom herself who demonstrated the importance of design. Brady Tolbert, the creative director at Bobby Berk, says of his mother, “She always had an eye for aesthetics and would always ask me for my opinion or if I liked something, and I know that I picked up my love for the design world and exploring new places from her.” 

What other tips and tricks have designers learned from their mothers? We spoke with a number of pros who shared the pieces of advice that have stuck with them over the years. 

01 of 15

Antiques are Everything

A bedroom with a Victorian headboard and mirror, as well as some more contemporary decor

Tyler Karu

“My mother has impeccable taste and has always enjoyed decorating her homes. Her parents had amazing antiques and vintage pieces, which she inherited and used as inspiration for her own home. That passion for antiques and collected spaces resonates with my personal aesthetic and is reflected in my work.” —Marika Meyer, founder of Marika Meyer Interiors 

“Start collecting antiques sooner than you think you should. Move them from home to home with you. Your memories—and your children’s memories—will be built around them.” —Leslie Martin and Kim Meardon, sisters and co-founders of M + M Interior Design 

“I was lucky to grow up in a house where my mom was a pro at mixing family antiques with special, more modern pieces that she found over the years. That style had a strong impact on me, as mixing the old with the new to create original spaces that make you feel welcome and inspired is exactly what we do at CL.” —Liz Goldberg, founder and creative director at CAROLYNLEONA

“It’s small touches that make a home feel more inviting and welcoming to guests. My mom and dad also taught me the power of some elbow grease. As a kid, they often took me antiquing and showed me how old furniture can shine again with a little paint or refinishing. Home is certainly cozier with an eclectic mix of new pieces and family heirlooms.” —Allison Rowan, home stager and redesigner

“My mom was always on the hunt for beautiful antique and vintage upholstered pieces, from the 18th century to the 70s. She was never deterred by their worn or unattractive coverings. She could appreciate the beauty of their lines and craftsmanship. Now, as an interior designer, I often purchase antique and vintage pieces that I recover for clients. But, I also am able to see through pieces in their home that they are not excited about and their potential.” —Adnan Anwar, interior designer at Adnan Anwar Design

Home is certainly cozier with an eclectic mix of new pieces and family heirlooms.

02 of 15

Inspiration is Everywhere

“My mother also taught me to keep your eyes and mind open to new sources of inspiration. She once designed her entire living room around an antique waste paper basket that was wrapped in blush chinoiserie silk.” —Marika Meyer

03 of 15

A House is Never Truly Finished

A contemporary dining room with Victorian dining room chairs

Sarah Fultz Interiors

“Decorating your home is never complete. Just when you think you’re finished, look around and see what needs to be freshened up—and that can be as simple as moving one piece into a different room or changing the shade of a lamp. Tiny edits can make a big difference.” —Leslie Martin and Kim Meardon

04 of 15

Cost Is Not Key

“True elegance has nothing to do with how much money you have or spend, it’s how you express yourself and the way a space lives.” —Drew McGukin, lead designer at Drew McGukin Interiors

05 of 15

Let Decorating Reflect Your Instincts and Passions

Neutral living room with built-in shelf.

mStarr Design

“My mother taught me to follow my instincts and to use my imagination, a decorating philosophy passed down through the generations from my great-grandmother, Sister Parish. She taught me that books are your best friend—to not only lose yourself in them, but pile, stack and line your shelves with them to add warmth and life to your rooms. She taught me how to decorate a dining room that people are drawn to—there is nothing stiff about my mom's dining rooms. They are fun, lively, and open-hearted. For mom, sharing good books and food is what life is all about, so her decorating reflects just this.” —Eliza Harris, creative director at Sister Parish Design

06 of 15

Just Get Started

“Sometimes, the hardest part of a redesign is opening the can of paint. Once that first stroke is on the wall, the rest will fall into place.” —Leslie Martin and Kim Meardon

07 of 15

Make Your Sleep Space Special

White bed in front of navy blue wall.

Design: Blue Copper Design; Photo: Life Created

“My mom made her bed first thing in the morning. The bed linen was always tonal white, and she layered it by adding bedspreads of block print textiles in pastel colors or Kantha quilts at the end of the bed. I emulate my mother when designing bedrooms by elevating the plain white bedding with calming colors and prints inspired by nature.” —Pallavi Kale, founder of Pallavi Kale Interiors

08 of 15

Showcase Your Values

A gallery wall with a combination of sleek and ornate mirrors

Amy Bartlam

“My mom modeled the importance of curating a home and filling it with things that truly represent what we value. She is the oldest of eight, so you can imagine the weekend fun we had with cousins. And so for us, we valued family. We didn’t have much back then, but family was everything to us. What you saw throughout our home were photos, lots of photos—everywhere. Galleries of pictures were framed on the walls and strategically placed on all tables. These framed photos were essential decorative items that brought life to the space. They helped create a narrative on how we viewed the essence of home. That experience helped build the foundation for why I spend time getting to know my clients and the things that they value. The things in our home should create a beautiful story of who lives there and what is most meaningful to them.” —Marie Cloud, interior designer and owner of Indigo Pruitt Design Studio

The things in our home should create a beautiful story of who lives there and what is most meaningful to them.

09 of 15

Don’t Fall for Trends

White kitchen with brick tile walls

Rikki Snyder

“Growing up in a mauve and gray kitchen with pickled cabinets was a true sign of the times—the good old 80s. While this felt cutting edge for all of three seconds, it quickly was spent. At the ripe old age of 10, I realized ‘on trend’ didn’t last long. I think it really made me think about timeless spaces, and how to design to feel more forever.” - Molly Machmer-Wessels, co-founder of Woodland Design Company 

10 of 15

Investment Pieces are Worth It

Traditional formal dining room with wooden chairs.

Kaelyn Guerin

“My mom taught me, even from a young age, that you should always buy the best that you can afford, and I say this to my clients all the time. You want to make sure if you are investing your hard-earned money in an item that will last.” —Stephanie Gamble, CEO and principal designer at Stephanie Gamble Interiors

11 of 15

Celebrate Your Heritage

green accent wall

Mocha Girl Place

“My mom taught me about showcasing heritage at home. My parents' house is full of beautiful works of Pakistani and Burmese art, rugs, and handicraft, some of which were passed down in my family and others that were purchased because they resonated at that level. Two of my favorite pieces are a hand-colored engraving of Rangoon and a Kashmiri paper mache tray from my great-grandma’s house. But, my mom also celebrated recent heritage and history, too. She grew up in Chicago, which is why we have paintings from the original Marshall Field’s store.” —Adnan Anwar

12 of 15

Don’t Be Too Precious

“I did not grow up in a house where everything was child-proofed, and my mom did not wait to decorate until I was grown. Our house was full of knick-knacks, corners, and beautiful textiles, glass, and the like. Some accidents happened, but I survived and so did most of the decor. This approach to decorating shapes how I decorate for families today. I of course think about safety and mischievous children pulling things off shelves and throwing their food around, but I don’t let it paralyze me. Nothing was too precious.” —Adnan Anwar

13 of 15

Go Beyond the Basics

Bright blue room with colorful decor.

Dazey Den

“My mom has taught me to think outside of the box when it comes to function and space management. Instead of putting a desk up against a wall, she places it perpendicular to the wall, which she calls a peninsula effect, and by doing so she’s able to open up space and give someone a better view. Instead of using an old rug in an entryway, clean it first, and then throw it across a headboard in a bedroom for a splash of unusual color and texture. Frame a textile and call it art. Use vases, mannequins, and other odd objects to hang necklaces and bracelets from. Pick up that tumbleweed, spray paint it, and use it as a centerpiece on your table. She’s full of ideas and creative thrillings that I would not normally think of, but I now find myself thinking of them regularly since she's taught me so well.” —Sara Queen, senior designer at Lisa Queen Design

14 of 15

Clean Before You Leave the House

Fresh spring bedding with neutral pillows.

House of Chais

“My mom keeps every room spotless and taught me the power of coming home to a clean house. If you tidy things up before you leave, returning home at the end of a long day or after vacation feels so much better.” —Allison Rowan

15 of 15

Make That Impulse Buy

“My mom has also taught me to not pass up an opportunity to snag something unique. If we're out and we see a piece of furniture or textile, let’s say at a secondhand shop or vintage market, and it grabs our attention, we grab it before it’s gone. I used to protest and say, 'But where will I put this?' Her response to me is always that you never know when the perfect moment will arise and you will wish you had it. I thought she was wild at first, and then it happened to me a few times, especially moving and renting, and imagining a little side table or rug that I saw and passed on that would be perfect for a new spot.” —Sara Queen